On 9th of February, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution by the FEMM and LIBE committees on the implementation of Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims (2020/2029(INI)). Prior to the vote, La Strada International, ICRSE and PICUM reached out to MEPs asking them to vote against several proposed amendments and paragraphs.
While the three platforms welcomed the general aim and intent of the resolution and expressed full support for the strong references to rights provisions, regret was shared about several amendments proposing to delete essential right provisions from the text, while several paragraphs in the resolution make unsound assertions and recommendations that would be detrimental to the rights of trafficked persons and vulnerable groups.
The amendments have not been approved, but the 4 paragraphs to which the 3 Platforms opposed were unfortunately adopted, including the call for more prioritisation by the Commission for the prevention of the crime of trafficking for sexual exploitation and to amend the Anti-Trafficking Directive with a view to ensuring that Member States explicitly criminalise the knowing use of all services provided by victims of trafficking which involve exploitation. Instead of calling for amendment of the Anti-Trafficking Directive, full transposition and implementation of the Directive is needed. Also further assessment is required about the real impacts of demand measures including the (legal) practices of criminalising all knowingly use of services and labour by trafficked persons. Whilst many sectors regularly rely on exploitative labour practices, much of the ‘demand actions’ currently taken by EU Member States have only targeted the sex work sector, and criminalized the use of sexual services as these might be exacted from victims of trafficking. Not only has this approach been inefficient at reducing trafficking, it has been found to dramatically increase violence and other human rights violations of sex workers.
Broadening criminal liability to criminalize all those that knowingly use services which involve exploitation seems dangerous and impractical, especially if – as is recommended by paragraph 68, that ‘the user should demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken to avoid the use of services provided by a victim’. This creates a positive obligation on all citizens to examine working conditions under which goods were produced or service offered. Such a provision may create a situation of legal uncertainty, where anyone can be held criminally liable for buying goods, products or services for everyday use, that are produced within the global supply chain, by workers in extremely precarious and exploitative conditions (and may include trafficked persons).